My husband arrived at the local dance studio with our daughter, who was excited to attend her very first class. But rather than being greeted by the friendly banter and camaraderie so familiar to many dance-parents, he was made to feel isolated, inadequate.
As a dad, he quickly realized he was unwelcome in the change room, and that he was barred from helping our not-yet-independent daughter use the washroom on account of his gender. The result? Dance class would have to wait for another day, another place.
I am a working mother of five and wife to a phenomenal stay-at-home-dad (SAHD). My husband has been home since January 2011, leaving his job as a mechanic to stay home full-time after I returned to work following the birth of our third child.
In recent years, there has been a notable shift in the female role in parenting, both in and out of the house. Mothers’ success has been redefined as whatever one wants it to be: accomplishment at home, or at work; perhaps, ideally, in both (“Supermom: she does it all!”). There exist myriad supports, complemented by endless commentary and broad consideration of what a mom needs in order to live in this brave, new reality. True understanding of, and support for, complementary fathers’ roles has not been equally considered and championed. The stark truth is that while we, as a society, want to believe that we are progressive and accepting, able to easily switch between, or successfully ignore, traditional gender roles, we’re overlooking the fact that it’s not true.
Life as a SAHD consists of this loneliness... peppered with sexism and judgement.
We’re to understand that SAHDs are not only accepted, by and large, they’ve even found their “tribes.” There is something insulting and belittling about this conversation. It ignores the harsh reality some SAHDs face, and is far too quick in celebrating supposed progress in how we see parenting. Moms in particular must challenge this assumption.
My husband’s experience at home has certainly not been one of camaraderie and tribe-finding — of gazing across a daddy-playgroup and locking eyes with his new SAHD-bestie, or happily tagging along with a group of coffee-drinking yoga moms. Rather, his experience as a SAHD has been isolating and misunderstood. Life as a stay-at-home-mom is lonely enough — life as a SAHD consists of this loneliness multiplied many times over, peppered with sexism and judgement.
Society still tends to view males as inherently more dangerous and prone to inappropriate behaviours than females, especially in the context of interactions with children. It’s because of this known prejudice that my husband avoids driving our kids’ friends home after a playdate — questions could be raised. It’s why him volunteering at school, which he’s done for seven years, can be considered unusual and cause for pause, where a female doing the same would be called a supermom. This is enormously unfair.
Dad groups are few and far between. Most children’s activities are geared for “mommy and me,” and Facebook pages similarly dedicated to parenting boast titles like “Ottawa Moms” — not “parents,” but “moms.” Each time my husband does attend an organized playgroup or event of this type, he feels ostracized, like the replacement parent for the day. Moms don’t invest effort in starting a conversation with him or steer clear of him altogether.
Parents have refused to let their kids visit ours when they found out he’d be supervising the playdate alone, which made them uncomfortable. The suspicion and assumptions were astounding.
From coworkers razzing my partner to the point of harassment about his choice, to relatives openly criticizing and making judgements, we’ve heard it all. “Enjoy your time at home wearing tutus and playing dolly.” “Why do you let your wife walk all over you like this? Why are you doing HER job?” “Who is really in control in your marriage?” “You’re embarrassing yourself.”
While he is a wonderful SAHD and partner, my husband searches for recognition of his value beyond this role — as a hockey coach, as a Beaver leader, as a community volunteer and, most recently, as a champion of the farming community. In eight years as a SAHD, he has lost friends who have drifted away. My husband often notes feeling lonely, starved for adult interaction. The reality is, there is no broad-based SAHD “tribe.”
My husband is a confident man, able to let much of this roll off his shoulders. But is this what progress looks like?
Becoming a part of the solution
Only by ensuring systemic change to the inherent sexism faced by SAHDs can real transformation to parenting be assured. Success for SAHDs should not be about “tribe-finding” and connecting with their fellow dads, but rather, experiencing full acceptance into the world of the stay-at-home-parent, regardless of gender. Moms can be part of that.
In the short term, there are things us moms can do to support SAHDs. Talk to that dad at the playground or at school drop off. Challenge yourself to address your own inherent beliefs, and change your actions if required — why is it OK for your mom friends to help your children change for a swimming playdate, but not their dads? Take the time to talk to your kids about the variety of roles that exist across genders, celebrating the fact that anyone can be what they want to be when they grow up.
If you hear stereotypes being repeated — “You would have been our No. 1 pick for the job, but the hours would be too demanding for you with young kids at home.” “Have your wife call us to set up the appointments, please!” — speak up, rather than letting such prejudice continue. In these small ways, an individual can make a difference that can contribute to a bigger change.
On a greater scale, creation of inclusive parenting resources would be a step in the right direction. Equal access should be created — for example, to change rooms. Similar to the way in which workplaces are changing to eliminate systemic barriers to employment for marginalized groups, the same must be undertaken for dads in this non-traditional role of primary caregiver.
All can be equally caring and capable parents, dedicated to the same task: nurturing their children.
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